Missouri's Colossal Catfishes

Bill Shakespeare certainly wasn't talking about Missouri catfish when he penned that phrase, but, I'll bet most catfish anglers would agree with it.

Catfish are popular among Missouri anglers, and it's easy to understand why. First, a big catfish is as strong a fighter as a Missouri mule is stubborn! Next, fried catfish is hard to beat at the supper table. Finally, many of us become hooked on catfish at an early age. They are so easy to catch that they are the first fish for many young anglers. I caught a catfish the first time I went fishing.

Catfish are probably named for the four pairs of long, slender, flexible barbels that look like cat whiskers near the fish's mouth. The barbels are loaded with taste buds. Catfish have very poor eyesight and rely on taste, touch and smell to locate food.

Contrary to any fish tales you might have heard, the whiskers of catfish are harmless to touch. However, catfish can inflict painful wounds with their sharply pointed pectoral or dorsal spines. Some species even have glands at the base of these spines that secrete a toxin and can produce a painful reaction in anyone who is "stuck" by one of these spines.

Missouri is home to 15 native species of catfish, including channel catfish, blue catfish, flathead catfish and three species of bullheads. The remaining nine native species are collectively referred to as "madtoms." These small, secretive catfish live primarily in our small streams, and they rarely exceed 6 inches in length. They are rarely seen unless a special effort is made to capture them.

Missouri also has white catfish (Ameiurus catus). An introduced species, this fish is shaped like Missouri bullheads, but it is bluish gray. The fish is native to the Atlantic coast from New York to Florida, but has been stocked elsewhere across the country, including Missouri. White catfish are rare in the state, but one caught in Truman Reservoir in 1991 weighed over 7 pounds, about the maximum size for this species.

Many bona-fide river rats claim white catfish are common in both the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. However, they probably are mistaking blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) for white catfish. Blue catfish can range from sky blue to pale white, but when they live in dark, muddy water, they often are pale, washed out white.

Blue catfish are known locally as white fulton, blue